Musical comedy Tricks of Khanuma premieres at National Academic Drama Theatre named after Gorky for International Day of Theatre
The National Academic Drama Theatre — popularly called the Russian Theatre — has staged many wonderful shows over the years. It always fascinates me to see how the audience behaves when the final curtain closes. Of course, there is applause, but this can range from polite clapping to thunderous enthusiasm. Certainly, the passion with which this is delivered indicates spectators’ reception of the show, and is a tribute to the work of the actors and director. Being extremely well-mannered, Belarusian audience would never display obvious dislike — such as heckling or ‘booing’ a show: their pleasure or distaste is evinced purely in their applause.
Tricks of Khanuma at the Russian Theatre!
There was a full house for the premiere, including critics and journalists, as well as theatrical teachers from the Academy of Arts and the University of Culture, and actors and directors from various theatres: from Minsk, Brest, Gomel, Grodno and Vitebsk. This sophisticated audience would have had no qualm in showing chilling restraint in their applause had they disliked the performance. Fortunately, their appreciation was generous, even accompanied by shouts of ‘Bravo’ and the delivery of floral bouquets.
I noticed only one face showing polite restraint and surprise: a theatrical critic from the Czech Republic. Sitting nearby, I heard him ask the purpose of such a show. Pondering the answer, I realised that this wonderful comedy by Avksenty Tsagareli — a Georgian classic — serves its own purpose purely in entertaining. It represents all aspects of the human condition, with jokes on such themes as Georgian dignity. Meanwhile, Giya Kancheli’s score, arranged by Tariel Maisuradze, is utterly uplifting. This is a performance nourishing the mind and soul.
Sergey Kovalchik, the producer, uses comedy with great discernment, so that the show does not descend into farce. We are presented with the ‘surface’ and are left to perceive the truth below. One of the play’s themes is the universal truth that money cannot buy love.
Kovalchik announced long before the premiere, during an interview with ONT TV Channel: ‘Each artist has the right to their own interpretation. Khanuma’s plot takes place in a market, representing all spheres of life. There, you can buy a woman, but not her love’.
This theme is at the heart of the performance; so strong is it that any uneven singing or speech intonations, or any shortage of comedy can be forgiven. With time, the Russian Theatre’s talented actors — young and mature alike — will perfect all.
The plot tells of a well-born prince who squanders his wealth, so urgently desires a bride with a dowry. A rich merchant is ready to marry off his beautiful young daughter to the prince, to gain a royal connection, but the girl is already in love — with her cousin, who teaches her music. Khanuma, Tiflis’ matchmaker, steps in.
Once the performance has been given five or six times, it will be perfect. At the moment, the characters’ emotions seem to run a little high. People’s Artiste Olga Klebanovich, who plays Khanuma, tells us, “We are trying to gauge our audience — as if testing the temperature of water.”
The play is swift in tempo and rhythm, so that it can be hard to catch more than the main points. Ms. Klebanovich portrays Khanuma with sincerity and psychological depth, so that we believe in the internal life of her character. She is strong, clever, experienced and inventive, intriguing to bend Fate her way. She uses comic trickery to direct the action, creating her own theatre within the theatre. Her appearance on stage in tutu and pink a la pointes ballerina shoes in the second act is a delight to behold, as she takes the place of the merchant’s daughter. Tears of laughter soon bring stomach cramps. Such a performance is worthy of respect and admiration, as Klebanovich squeezes her ample figure into the little ballerina costume.
Yelena Pastrevich plays Tekle — the sister of the prince: a haughty aristocratic lady, who has seen better days. It is one of her first leading roles but she plays with utter sincerity, plotting to ensure that her brother marries a good dowry — regardless of love. She wants only to return to her former comfortable existence. The nervous tremble of desire is almost palpable.
I also love Oksana Lesnaya’s Kabato; the aggressive matchmaker-rival of Khanuma. She enters the stage with the power of a whirlwind and a passionate, almost childishly impetuous desire to beat Khanuma, although we never feel that she has this within her power. Olga laughs that her Khanuma is undefeatable, being stronger and more experienced. “She is inspired not by the promise of financial reward, as is the case for Kabato; rather, she believes in the preservation of true love — although she certainly needs money,” adds Olga.
Akop, the prince’s bailiff, is played by Alexander Tkachenok. He describes his character as an ‘eagle’ and as an ‘independent highlander’. Despite being a self-professed misogynist, he begins to warm to Khanuma, finding in her a match for his own wit. As the plot progresses, we gradually see a different side to him. Mr. Tkachenok says, “He spreads his wings, revealing the gentle soul of a poet.” Akop is an intriguing character, with much depth, inspiring us to wonder about his true nature and motivations. Only in his final duet with Khanuma do we see his heart. He and Khanuma enjoy a mature love, which is just as blessed as that found by the young lovers.
Ms. Klebanovich has a kind word for all the cast: Andrey Senkin (Kote — the nephew of the prince) is inimitable; Yulia Kadushkevich (Sona) is gentle and lyrical; and Andrey Zakharevich (Mikich Kotryants, father of Sona) is grand in stature — as is young Vasily Grechukhin (Timote). It’s difficult not to agree. Olga also speaks well of the ‘second cast’: Ruslan Chernetsky (Mikich Kotryants), Oleg Kots (Timote), Anatoly Golub (Akop) and Yelena Stetsenko (Sona). All are sensitive to the mood of the audience.
Eduard Goryachy, Igor Andreev and Andrey Dudarenko play three princes who are friends with our aspiring royal — showing charm even in the rather long bath scene. Vladimir Shelestov, Honoured Artiste of Belarus, plays the money-squandering prince. Mr. Shelestov was a magnificent Napoleon in His Majesty’s Adjutant (no longer in the theatre’s repertoire) but his prince leaves a little to be desired. He appeared tired at the performance, as if missing his vital spark. He was rather the ‘odd one out’ among the cast.
Sergey Kovalchik has built a special world, full of Georgian flavour. The actors’ use of Georgian intonation is subtle, so there is no temptation to laugh at them; the ‘Georgians’ are worthy of our respect. Sergey tells us that he visited Georgia in 1980, on tour, performing Sign of Misfortune, by Vasil Bykov. Since then, he’s had a soft spot for Georgians. He smiles, “I love Khanuma, as she’s such a vivid national character — as I can empathise with. I recollected the melody of Georgian speech in creating her. We don’t live in Georgia but we still need to feel the force of love: that marriage is not a place for compromise. Love should never be betrayed.”
Alla Sorokina’s sets and Maria Gerasimovich’s costumes also bring Georgia to life. Many of the men wear hammered metal accessories, and shaggy sheepskin papakhas hats, tilted over their eyes. Meanwhile, Khanuma has a stylised bag-bandolier on her belt. There are wineskins covering the wine, horns for drinking wine, and sheathed knives. Song and dance fill the stage, as do jokes, delicate irony and vaudeville style humour.
Olga Klebanovich tells us, “We worked with huge inspiration. Sergey Kovalchik inspired us all. He’s like a geyser, inimitable in his desire to create a real legacy. His dynamism and optimism are infectious; he ran about the stage to show us how to behave. It was easy to believe in our success and we embraced the Georgian temperament with delight, doing everything our director and ballet master asked of us. I can’t deny that it was hard work but our spirits soared during rehearsals, helping us to overcome any weariness …”
In conclusion, I must say that the show is bewitchingly bright and beautiful, with a healthy charge of cheerfulness. It’s sure to enjoy a long run of success.
By Valentina Zhdanovich
Tricks of Khanuma is sold out for several months already.
<img class="imgr" alt="Youth of the theatre performs excellent" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-393.jpg">[b]Musical comedy Tricks of Khanuma premieres at National Academic Drama Theatre named after Gorky for International Day of Theatre [/b]<br />The National Academic Drama Theatre — popularly called the Russian Theatre — has staged many wonderful shows over the years. It always fascinates me to see how the audience behaves when the final curtain closes. Of course, there is applause, but this can range from polite clapping to thunderous enthusiasm. Certainly, the passion with which this is delivered indicates spectators’ reception of the show, and is a tribute to the work of the actors and director. Being extremely well-mannered, Belarusian audience would never display obvious dislike — such as heckling or ‘booing’ a show: their pleasure or distaste is evinced purely in their applause.